Police in a rural Pennsylvania town charged a man with two misdemeanors last week after he hung a large, badly spray-painted American flag upside down on the front of his house.
The cop involved in the kerfuffle also took down the flag, neatly folded it up “and seized it as evidence,” Pittsburgh NBC affiliate WPXI reports.
“I was offended by it when I first saw it,” said Allegheny Township assistant police chief L.J. Berg. “I had an individual stop here at the station, a female, who was in the military and she was very offended by it.”
So, since he and someone else were offended, Berg charged Joshua Brubaker, who lives in the house, with flag desecration and insulting the American flag.
Brubaker swears he never wanted to offend anyone when he gauchely smothered Old Glory with the word “AIM” and plastered it in front of his little blue house, just to the right of the front door.
By the way, the house is located just across the street from the police station.
Brubaker explained that he and his wife share an American Indian heritage, and that he is a zealous supporter of the American Indian Movement (thus the letters A-I-M).
“I found that Wounded Knee is up for sale, Brubaker told WPXI. “Not only privately, but commercially. It’s just not right and, simply because I express myself in a way that somebody else doesn’t like or agree with, doesn’t mean I should be persecuted for having beliefs.”
According to an ABC News report from May 1, 2013, James A. Czywczynski, a former public accountant from Rapid City, S.D. was seeking to sell a couple of 40-acre Wounded Knee tracts for $4.9 million to any willing buyer.
“If I don’t have a right to fly that flag upside down, which means a sign of distress, which this country is in so much distress right now, then what’s the point of having it?” Brubaker asked a reporter.
“When I tried to tell him that I was using it to stand for a sign of our country being in distress, he yelled at me that our country is not in distress,” he added, according to west-central Pennsylvania affiliate WJAC.
Officer Berg made an appeal to patriotism.
“People have made too many sacrifices to protect the flag and to have this happen in my community, I’m not happy with that,” the lawman told the station.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has stepped forward to back Brubaker.
“This is clearly political expression,” ACLU spokesman Vic Walczak told WJAC. “It does not give [the police] license to run over our First Amendment just because it offended them. Previous court decisions have ruled these laws unconstitutional.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has not made a specific ruling on upside-down American flags with words spray-painted on them attached to houses across the street from the police station.
A close analogue is Texas v. Johnson, a 1989 case in which a 5-4 majority held that flag burning and other offensive speech is protected by the First Amendment, especially if the speech is politically symbolic in nature.